NESTELL, John Jay “Uncle John”

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NESTELL, John Jay ‘Uncle John’ (1840-1917), wealthy broker from New York who spent the latter years of his life at Avalon, Santa Catalina Island where acquired considerable real estate in the vicinity of Whittley and Marilla avenues. Nestell greatly enjoyed fishing. According to the 1880 census, Nestell married his wife, Emma Elizabeth Ball (1843-1926) in 1865, and they had three children:

  • Isabella Nestell [Leonard] (b. 1868)
  • Edward Victor Nestell (b. 1871)
  • Raymond Jay Nestell (1877-1968)

“Uncle John,’ as the locals called him, was well-liked for his genial hospitality and generosity. He invested in the Meteor Boat Company, and in 1902 had the 20-foot-long boat, Nestella, built as a gift for his friend, George Farnsworth. By the 1910 census, Nestell and his wife were living in New Jersey. J. J. Nestell died in his 77th year at his home in Bayonne, New Jersey.

» Nestella

[PHOTO: Huntington. Banning Collection. Album 180 (460+461) “Southeaster. M/B Nestella owned by John Nestell — a character. He ran the ‘Pilgrim Club’ which was a somewhat illegal gambling house where gold pieces were used for chips. Dan Jerrie’s and Ben Rosin’s saloons also had dice games. These games were never raided until sometime after Labor Day when ‘the season’ was over. There was always ample mooring so that everything could be properly arranged. —Written on back of photo post card Banning Album 180(460).]

In the News~

March 3, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. ‘Uncle John’ Nestell is the hero of Avalon, not so much for what he has accomplished as that his persistent effort has shown possibilities which were unappreciated in the winter fishing… Uncle John is not as yet a member of the Tuna Club…”

March 9, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. When ‘Uncle John’ Nestell came in from his fishing last night shortly before 9 o’clock, nearly all of Avalon was on the beach to congratulate him… Uncle John is a man of affairs in New York and owns mountains of iron in the South. He on occasions takes flyer in Wall Street and coquettes with the stock market and has been known to ‘buck the tiger.’ He has stood on the brink of a maelstrom and felt the ground ooze out from under his feat, which meant a slump of thousands in his holdings; he has seen rich ‘jackpots’ go to the other fellow on a showdown without the bat of an eye; he has seen a fortune melt away between the rising and the setting of the sun; but he has never experienced quite so keen a disappointment as when last night, after fighting a tuna five and a half hours, it showered cold water all over him and escaped…”

March 12, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. ‘Uncle John’ Nestell stirred up a wave of excitement last week by hooking several tuna, all of which were lost because of insufficient tackle.”

March 17, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. In yesterday’s rush of big fish ‘Uncle John’ Nestell scored the first yellowtail of the season, a fine fellow weighing 21-1/2 pounds.”

March 18, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. …‘Uncle John’ seems to have a charmed hook, for this is the fifth tuna he has hooked, but ill luck, like a villain, still pursues him, and they have been lost...”

March 23, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. ‘Uncle John Nestell had all the luck at angling this morning, catching two yellowtail, one of which weighed 33 pounds.”

March 26, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. ‘Uncle John’ Nestell, who spends nearly all the daylight hours in fishing, with his skipper George Farnsworth, was trolling for tuna just off Jewfish Point when an eagle, one of a pair which have a nest nigh up on the side of the cliff which rises nearly a thousand feet there, mistaking his bait for a floating fish, swooped down and seizing it in its talons, started for the nest. Uncle John’s reel began screaming to beat the eagle’s shriek, and higher and higher flew the big bird, until the 900-feet of line was run out, and then tugging desperately the hold of the hook was torn out of the fish and the line dropped back into the water.”

March 28, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. G. D. B. Bonbright landed two yellowtail yesterday, and ‘Uncle John’ Nestell duplicated the score.”

April 5, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. ‘Uncle John’ Nestell, called away by urgent business which demanded his attention, took his departure from the island today, accompanied by his niece, Miss Mollie T. Holland, having spent three months here. It was with great regret that he left without having caught a tuna, but fate seemed to be against him in that regard, for it seemed to be ill luck that pursued him and not his fault that he lost his fish. ‘Uncle John’ has endeared himself to everybody on the island, and as a sample of his generous disposition, he yesterday ordered at the Mathewson ship yard the best fishing launch that could be built, for George Farnsworth, who had been his boatman while here. He also says there is another young boatman here whom he expects to favor in a similar manner at some future time. ‘Uncle John’ will be welcomed back, whenever he chooses to turn his face this way.”

June 11, 1902 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The proudest man on the island yesterday was George Farnsworth, when his new boat, the Nestella, was launched. It was ordered for Farnsworth by ‘Uncle John’ Nestell, who spent most of the winter here fishing with George, and before leaving he contracted and paid for the boat, George to repay him as he makes it from the proceeds of his work with the craft. It was built by Mathweson at the Avalon ship yards, is of his usual type of fishing launches, 20 feet long, 5 feet 8 inches beam, and equipped with four-horse-power engine. ”

March 20, 1903 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Uncle John Nestell, with George Farnsworth for boatman, encountered a school of tuna and barracuda yesterday that were churning the water as far as the eye could reach, from Long Point up the coast way out to sea…”

May 25, 1903 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. ‘Uncle John’ Nestell scooped all the anglers again yesterday afternoon and made the best yellowtail catch of this season. He did not go out until 3 o’clock, but reported back at 6 with ten big yellowtail, one bonita and two barracuda.”

August 13, 1903 [TI/Avalon]: “The following yellowtail catches were brought in… the Nestella, George Farnsworth, skipper, N. W. Tarr, angler, 23…”

January 30, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. The Goddess of Good Fortune certainly haunts the trail of ‘Uncle John’ Nestell. Two years ago he ordered a launch built at a cost of $1000 for George Farnsworth, his boatman, and made him a present of it. Last winter he bought the Idlwyld, a handsome excursion boat, changing the name to Tio Juan — Uncle John, and installed George’s brother, Hawley Farnsworth as its skipper, to make what he could during the busy season, free of rent. Yesterday he purchased from Vincent Moricich the launch Catalina, paying $1000 for it, and presented the boat to ‘Billy’ Jameson, who held a lease on it for the coming season. Uncle John will soon find himself canonized as the ‘Saint John of Catalina’ if he continues his kindness.”

February 15, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Thursday night some vandal visited the launch Catalina, anchored at its moorings near Sugar Loaf. A heavy hammer was used to break off or bend attachments, nuts and bolts were taken from their places and thrown overboard and a diamond drill was used to punch holes in pipes and tubes. The engine was completely wrecked. The Catalina is the boat recently purchased by ‘Uncle John’ Nestell and presented to Billy Jameson. ‘Uncle John’ has been a good angel to several of the boatmen, and is non-plussed at the act. He regards it as a blow to him rather that at Jameson. Friday night a chest of tools at Uncle John’s stand was rifled. He will temporarily discontinue his benefactions and will turn his attention to running down and punishing the perpetrator. He has offered a reward of $200—$100 for evidence to convict the man who wrecked the Catalina’s engine, and an additional $100 for the conviction of the person who rifled his stand.”

March 17, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Horace Kruse of Denver was a guest of John Jay Nestell yesterday. He has gone to Los Angeles, but will return here for an extended stay.”

March 21, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Marble of New York City are guests of Honorable John Jay Nestell at his cottage, Tio Juan.”

April 14, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Horace Kruse of Denver, who has been obliged to relinquish his studies on account of ill health, is the guest of Uncle John Nestell at Tio Juan cottage.”

May 15, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. About twenty of the friends of Uncle John Nestell met at Hotel Metropole last evening and in a body went up and stormed Tio Juan cottage. It was a complete surprise, but the intruders were given a hearty welcome and spent a most delightful evening with music, games and refreshments.”

June 17, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Whittley Avenue is having a boom in real estate. Recently Uncle John Nestell bought a lot and has built a fine cottage thereon. The property adjoining, owned by Mrs. O. P. Gutterson, is now reported sold to A. J. Levy, a wealthy New York man, who will immediately erect a handsome residence. The property adjoins Hotel Metropole and the price paid is said to be $9000.”

July 15, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Frank Holland of San Francisco, brother of Miss Mollie Holland, is a visitor at Tio Juan cottage. ‘Uncle John’ Nestell and his niece, Miss Mollie Holland, are enjoying life in their new home, Tio Juan cottage, just completed on Whitley Avenue.”

July 17, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Some evil-disposed person put a match to a lot of rubbish on the hillside on some back lots of Metropole Avenue last night about midnight, which proved a menace to ‘Uncle John’ Nestell’s new house. It was discovered by the officers in time to prevent it from doing any damage.”

August 12, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. There was a surprise for J. Jay Nestell’s new cottage last evening. ‘Uncle John’ is not too old to have birthdays, nor is he to old to enjoy a good time with his friends. He acknowledges 64 years, but he doesn’t act the part. Having a tip from his niece, Miss Mollie Holland, that Uncle John was on the edge of another cycle, about twenty of his friends assembled. There were games enjoyed, after which Mrs. W. S. Brown, Misses Edna and Nora Dickinson and Miss Maude E. Richards gave several vocal and instrumental selections. An elaborate birthday cake with all the accessories was discussed, and the room was cleared for dancing. Uncle John leading in a cake walk, and all made merry in the Virginia reel…”

August 26, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. ‘Uncle John’ Nestell had a party of young folks at is cottage last evening, and gave them a happy time with music and refreshments, winding up with the old Virginia reel. There were present… Arthur Sanger…”

September 8, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Miss Mollie Holland was hostess of a party of dignitaries of the Catholic Church on an excursion to Moonstone Beach this morning, the launch Tio Juan being placed at their disposal by ‘Uncle John’ Nestell.”

September 19, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. ‘Uncle John’ Nestell gave Messrs. C. A. Bryant and George Greely of the Catalina stage line and their families, a ride to Arch Rock and other points of interest this afternoon in his fine launch, Tio Juan.”

May 18, 1906 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Uncle John Nestell tore himself away yesterday and is visiting Los Angeles, for the first time in nearly a year.”

June 15, 1907 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Nestell left yesterday for their new home in Los Angeles at No. 1919 Cordova Street. Mr. Nestell is a son of ‘Uncle John’ Nestell, and they have been his guests here for the past six months.”

July 13, 1907 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Uncle John Nestell, the wealthy New York broker who was the subject of a bad accident Sunday night, is much improved and, unless unforeseen complications ensue, may be considered out of danger. All symptoms are better with the exception of his heart action, which is weak.”

July 25, 1907 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. ‘Uncle John’ Nestell has so far recovered from his accident and illness that he was taken up to Arrowhead Hot Springs today for the benefit of the mountain air.”

August 18, 1907 [LAT]: “Avalon. It was announced this morning that the Meteor Boat Company, which has waged most of the warfare for an ‘open’ port, will erect a pavilion as the first step in a proposed general competition with the Banning Company. The Meteor Company, of which W. D. Hubbard is president, E. L. Doran vice-president and W. M. Hunt Jr., secretary and treasurer, declares that at least $30,000 will be expended in the construction of the new pavilion, and that it will be one of the finest on the Pacific Coast. E. L. Doran, the [vice] president, left this morning for Los Angeles, presumably in connection with the enterprise, and is reported to have taken with him plans drawn by a local architect, whose name is withheld, to procure bids for immediate construction. Mr. Hunt, when interviewed this morning, declared that everything is in readiness, that ample capital is available for the installment of this and other attractions, and that a fine site has been located. Mr. Hunt refuses to tell where is the site of the pavilion, but it is reported on good authority that a deal has been pending for some time between ‘Uncle John’ Nestell and Mr. Doran, et al, for a site between Whittley and Marilla avenues, up the canyon back of the Metropole. Mr. Nestell has disclaimed any interest in the project, however, other than in having the land for sale. He is a minor stockholder in the Meteor Boat Company, which is endeavoring to launch the enterprise in opposition to the Banning brothers. The news of the new pavilion will come as a surprise to many of the islanders, as the project was previously rumored and denied.”

December 14, 1907 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. John Nestell, also a large property owner on the island, left today for a two months’ sojourn to New York and other points of interest.”

August 2, 1908 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. A New York man, whose name is withheld, has purchased of John Nestell, of that city, the property on which $150,000 was expended four years ago and which includes a handsome residence. ‘Tio Juan,’ located on the hill back of the Hotel Metropole, twenty cottages and flats and the Campus Virginia. The consideration is not stated.”

February 20, 1917 [TI/Avalon]: “Uncle John Nestell passes. Many old-time residents of Avalon were saddened when the news reached here of the recent death of J. Jay Nestell, at his home in Bayonne, N. J. He passed away February 11th, in his 77th year, after only a brief illness. ‘Uncle John,’ and he was better known on the island, arrived here about 1900, bought property, built several houses and ‘took the place by storm.’ He was one of the first anglers to build a motorboat from which to fish. The palatial residence of Tio Juan was his home for several years. In 1908 he left the island and returned to New York. About two acres of land still bear his name, ‘The Nestell Properties,’ although the ownership changed three years ago. Mr. Nestell was a veteran of the Civil War, as a member of the 22nd New York regiment. He was a Mason, a member of Bunting Lodge, New York, and an honorary member of Nestell Lodge of Providence, R. I. In 1865 he married Emma E. Ball who survives him, with one daughter, Mrs. Warren A. Leonard of New York, and two sons, Edward V. of Canaan, Ct., and Raymond J. of Los Angeles.”